"We are witnessing changes to the mining working culture with increasing digitalization as many mines are operating their mines from control rooms in Santiago, such as Codelco’s Hales."
What is the role of Weir Minerals in the Chilean mining industry?
Weir Minerals is the leading provider of equipment for any wet substances such as slurry or water. We supply equipment to transport these substances, as well as pumps, valves, compressors and turbines. The company consists of three divisions: the minerals division, oil and gas, and the ESCO division. A decision has been made to divest our oil and gas division, so we will focus solely on mining. We can supply the mines from the pit to the comminution and processing of the plant, providing our customers with a solution.
In 2014 we acquired Trio, a Chinese-American manufacturer of crushing and separation equipment for the mining and aggregates markets. More recently, in 2017, we acquired Esco, a leading US-based manufacturer of Ground Engaging Tools (GET) for the mining and construction markets, which operates as a separate division under Weir.
How did the pandemic impact your operations and the Chilean mining industry from your perspective?
We are fascinated by the resilience the Chilean mining industry has shown amid the pandemic, considering its impact on mines around the world. The industry globally adapted to the circumstances and recovered, especially as commodity prices rebounded.
From Weir Minerals’ perspective, the pandemic confirmed the importance of our workforce’s wellbeing to our organization. Secondly, amid the delays and closures, we persevered and continued supplying our customers around the world. Finally, we were able to leverage our Synertrex Digital platform to monitor and support equipment remotely.
Can you elaborate on some of the technology you use to increase operational efficiency in your processes and equipment?
Our Synertrex platform relies on advanced IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) technology, using a cloud and smart sensors placed on the Weir product. It collects vital operational data that is transformed more visually to the customer through a digital interface. The service provided by the platform allows problems to be identified before they occur, reducing downtime and optimizing equipment performance throughout a circuit. Equipment wear and tear can be easily controlled, and trouble spots can be detected before they become major problems. As the mines are maximizing operational efficiency and profits, we support them as our service team is on call to ensure no time is lost. However, even though the industry is accepting digitalization today, it is lagging in the implementation of technology relative to other industries, as it preferred to rely on more traditional operations.
How does your recent partnership with Andritz better position you in the market?
Mining companies face immense challenges with regards to the social license to operate. Therefore, they must implement sustainable water management solutions, especially in Chile, where water is scarce. Our partnership with Andritz allows us to offer complete tailings solutions to the mining industry, as they supply dewatering technologies. Under the brand name IsoDry we offer customers a range of mechanical separation technologies, such as thickeners, filter presses, centrifuges and vacuum belt filters, reducing the size of the tailings dam to a tenth of what it used to be.
What are the main challenges facing the mining industry in Chile today?
The mines are located in remote areas, where talent acquisition is difficult, especially since today’s workforce, due to Covid, is unwilling to relocate to the site for long periods. Therefore, regarding labour, the industry is finding it challenging to retain talent. We are witnessing changes to the mining working culture with increasing digitalization as many mines are operating their mines from control rooms in Santiago, such as Codelco’s Hales. Secondly, energy consumption is another challenge that is being overcome by the shift towards renewable energy sources. Finally, the social license to operate and incorporating communities into the operations continues to challenge the industry.
What goals would you like to achieve as Weir Minerals over the next three years?
Weir Minerals wants to increase its presence as a reliable partner in mining operations. As the mines focus on producing the minerals, we want to continue providing support and the solutions across the operation.